The term “jack of all trades” comes up a lot when talking about modern cars and trucks. Buyers typically can’t afford more than one vehicle per person in the household, so it’s understandable they’d try and find a vehicle that covers as many of their needs as possible — be it comfort, luxury, speed or off-road capability. But seeing as how the other half of that famous saying is “master of none,” there’s something to be said for a vehicle dedicated primarily to one discipline.
The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro is just such a vehicle — one that shines brightest when it’s in its specific element.
Buy Now: $49,765+ (2020 model)
The Good: Like the other TRD Pro models, this Toyota 4Runner is a rugged, durable, purpose-built off-roader that can take a beating and keep on trucking.
Who It’s For: Anyone looking for a no-nonsense SUV that’s ideal for adventures off the grid, and doesn’t mind dealing with the compromises of an aging truck-based platform in the daily grind.
Watch Out For: A sparse, dated interior; laborious acceleration; a chore to drive when you’re not out on an adventure.
Alternatives: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ($41,795+), Lexus GX 460 ($52,505+)
Review: “That’s…quite blue,” was my first reaction upon seeing my test car. Voodoo Blue, to be specific — and its vibrance delivers quite a shock when you’re expecting a rugged overlander. It was a sour first impression — but by the end of my time with the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro, the truck had won me over. Powerful Voodoo indeed.
My tester was a 2019 model, which matches the 2020 in every mechanical way. The upgrades include feaures a new instrument panel and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay. Fiddling with the aging 6.1-inch in my 2019 model makes me glad Toyota updated those features for 2020.
Apart from the eclectic paint job, the exterior was saddled with the same aggressive features the 4Runner has sported since 2014. Compared to the other 4Runner models, the TRD Pro sports 17-inch matte black wheels, a matte black roof basket, a unique grille and a 1/4-inch branded skid plate under its chin. The Pro also picks up unique Fox high-performance shocks, with the whole suspension tuned less for pavement-based driving and more for off-road capability.
Which leads us to why the TRD Pro was initially underwhelming. Driving about town, the body-on-frame Toyota handled like a crate on wheels; the 4Runner weighs 4,750 pounds, and you feel every ounce of it when stopping or turning. Brake response felt delayed by a whole precious second, scaring me just as much as it did drivers in front of me. Under the hood, the 4Runner TRD Pro packs a 4.0-liter V6 that musters up 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, which means it doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I often found myself switching from Eco mode to Sport for overtaking and merging, in spite of the hit it would mean to the already-poor gas mileage.
Since daily driving the TRD Pro left me a little cool, I took the 4Runner on a little excursion to Monticello Motor Club’s off-road course in upstate New York to seek out the sort of challenges the 4Runner was built for. The course there is a mixture of rough, narrow paths, steep hills and drops, mud traps, rocks and ruts; while I was confident the 4Runner could tackle what lay ahead, off-roading demands a lot of trust in your vehicle. If it underperforms, you’re not slow, you’re stuck.
The multi-terrain system in the 4Runner, however, proved more and more handy the further we crawled into the woods. The dirt paths were easy going, but the loose boulders that followed were mildly intimidating. Selecting the setting that matched the terrain meant the Toyota kept its wheels from spinning needlessly, instead directing power where it needed to go.
Then came a deeper-than-anticipated mud pit, which overcame the truck’s momentum and left stranded just shy of dry dirt. Utilizing the five-level crawl control, the TRD Pro worked to find some traction underfoot; with a little finesse, the Nitto Terra Grappler tires found some purchase and heaved the SUV out of the muck.
The 4Runner emerged from the trails victorious, leaving me with a wholly different view of the TRD Pro: there’s value in being particularly good at one task rather than trying to make everyone happy.
Verdict: The Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro proved itself in the mud and on the trails — not as a spectacular SUV, but as a damn good piece of equipment. It’s one that any serious overlander or off-roader should be happy to include in their adventure kit.
2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro: Key Specs
Powertrain: 4.0-liter V6; five-speed automatic; full-time four-wheel-drive
Torque: 278 lb-ft
Weight: 4,750 pounds
EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 20 mpg highway
Toyota provided this product for review.
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